I Couldn't Care Less: Mentally Unbalanced

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A hypodermic needle and a vial

Mentally Unbalanced

This week actor, comedian, author and mental health ambassador Stephen Fry spoke publically about his suicide attempt in 2012. Later this week Alistaire Campbell, former Downing Street advisor and another mental health advocate1 tweeted: 'To those asking what Steven Fry has to be depressed about, would you ask what someone has to be cancerous, diabetic or asthmatic about?'. So this week we're going to be looking at mental health.

When it comes to general attitudes to mental health 'tolerance' would seem the obvious problem to address. This is a big issue and it is still the case that lots of people with wide ranging mental health problems of various sorts face discrimination and a lack of understanding. But there, I think, is the more serious issue. Some people, by their nature, are always going to discriminate against people for some reason or other. The best we can do with these people is to block them out with legislation. The rest of the world needs to be helped towards understanding mental health so that they can judge that of other people, and even themselves, better.

The first problem is one I like to think of as the bi-polar problem. You're either one thing or the other. Recently my wife and I have been trying to persuade a friend of ours to seek help for what we fear may be depression caused by a recent bereavement. She listens and sort of agrees and then says 'but I'm not mad, am I?' This is not a unique problem. People often mistake mental illness for being a clear specific thing that you either have or don't have. I suspect there is also a tendency to think of mental illness as an incurable thing. It can be managed if you take your medication, but its permanent and incurable. Some people are mad, and some people are sane, and that's that.

Mental illness is quite like physical illness in that it has variation. There are illnesses with which you are born, where the best we can currently manage is to alleviate the symptoms and make your life a little easier. There are serious conditions you can develop (combat fatigue, anyone?) and, as with physical health, there are things you can do to make you more, or less, mentally healthy. And there are things that can be more or less fixed. Depression can be got over, addiction can be beaten. Admittedly the absolutes in mental health are currently less absolute, but still mental illness needn't be a thing to be feared- a permanent doomed state in which you will be tranquillised and locked in a room.

The second problem, though, is one of control. I shouldn't be depressed. I should be able to pull myself out of it. Because depression and other mental problems can seem like normal emotions just heightened, people often presume that they can deal with them in the same way as they normally would. And sure enough, if you cut your finger a plaster with probably stem the bleeding and it will heal by itself if you keep it clean. But if you cut your finger off you'd better get medical help pretty sharpish.

So what's the rule? Mental health exists on a sliding scale. Treat your mind with the care and respect you treat your body. Look after it. Allow it time to rest and relax. Exercise it. And if it is under the weather, don't be afraid to ask for help making it better.

Articles by benjaminpmoore Archive


17.06.13 Front Page

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1He doesn't advocate mental illness, obviously. He's an advocate on behalf of others with mental illness.

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